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Dev Diary 007: Lowering Expectations

Space TaxiSpace TaxiAs you all know (this is the seventh installment, after all!), yours truly has been working on becoming a hobbyist indie game developer. It's an interesting and very enlightening project, and not just because I get to work with cool software and possibly make some cool games. The aspect that's been the most rewarding is realizing just how much work goes into making modern games. I'll definitely never play a game like L.A. Noire again and not have to pause a moment to think, "WOW. Somebody had to sit down and make every single 3D object in this game..." Somebody had to rig every animation, and somebody else had to script each behavior. The sheer enormity of the task pretty much takes your breath away when you really understand how much effort went into it. And let's not forget the producers, as well, who somehow have to bring all of this work together. It's no wonder the credits on a game can take upwards of an hour to scroll by!

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Matt Chat 130 & 131: Mark Soderwall

My apologies for not posting these sooner! This is the second and third parts of my interview with Mark Soderwall, who's giving us the lowdown on what it's like to be a graphics artist. He's got 20 years of experience and tons of stories--including juicy stuff about what Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Wachowski brothers are like backstage. It's good stuff.
Episode 130:

Episode 131:

Download Episode 130.
Download Episode 131.

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Thrust Lifter OST

Thrust Lifter: You salty dawg...Thrust Lifter: You salty dawg...Matt's Valentine's Day Preparation Guide.

First off, stop playing Thrust Lifter. I know it's hard...VERY HARD. But this is Valentine's Day. It's about HER, not rescuing the Chilenoids. I'm not even going to provide a link to the game. Hey, don't click on that!

Now that you're NOT playing videogames, let's set the stage for a wonderful Valentine's Day.

Step 1. Breakfast in bed. How about some heart-shaped waffles? Don't even think about fake butter, buddy.
Step 2. Say: "I had an amazing dream last night. Then I woke up next to someone even more amazing."
Step 3. What's that? A box of chocolates! Nice. But say: "Chocolate is great. But let's face it...Mr. Hershey never tasted your lips."
Step 4. Present your clipboard. "I made a list of everything that's great about you. Let's begin with item #00000001."
Step 5. Hold on a minute! No background music??? ZOMG, you fool!!! Download Thrust Lifter OST on your iPod NOW!!!

Thank Gawd I'm here to save your marriage.
Download the Thrust Lifter OST right now.

Thank me when you have 4.5 children and a dog to fetch your slippers.

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Dev Diary 006: Despair Sets in

Well, it had to happen eventually. For awhile now I've felt that I've been making steady progress towards making my own CRPG using Unity and Blender, but for the last few days I've had the sickening feeling that I'm in over my head. Although I can watch endless tutorials that make the whole process look like a breeze, when it comes down to actually trying to implement anything myself it's just bewildering. I'm finding that I just can't seem to wrap my head around some of the concepts of 3D animation and control. I don't want to give up, but I'm feeling very tempted at this point to just throw my hands up in the air and either go back to trying to make something worthwhile with Gamemaker or beg and plead someone with more experience to be my mentor.

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Dev Diary 005: Stumbling around Unity Scripting

Well, I definitely think I've left all the easy stuff behind me...Way behind me. Coming to Unity Scripting from Gamemaker is like jumping from addition to differential calculus. I'm pretty much forced to copy and paste code from samples. What's frustrating is that I *feel* like I understand the concepts, but for some reason when I try to apply them I get lost in a sea of look-alike names and subtle but critical distinctions between objects, classes, components, etc.

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Matt's Dev Diary 004: Lighting and Characters

Today I spent most of my time working with Blender. The first order of the day was to learn all about lighting. Blender has a dizzying amount of options for this, but I'm not even sure I'll need any of it so I didn't spend a lot of time here. UNITY has its own lighting system, and I'm not sure to what extent I'll be able to use lights I make in Blender anyway, but I figured the knowledge would be transferable in a general sense. In any case, it is fascinating (and addictive) to just experiment with all the lighting options and see how they affect shading and such. You can really get some nice shading effects with different kinds of lighting. Here's just an example:
Cube with LightsCube with Lights
The next chapter was on Character Animation, and the author pointed out two different people-making tools you can use. Both were free in terms of cost: Make Human and Daz Studio. While you can try to make humans from scratch, these tools essentially give you an interface similar to those seen in games like Skyrim where you can adjust and tweak your face, nose, etc. The exciting part is that you can export your creations into Blender. I may know next to nothing about modeling and animation, but even I can use these interfaces and my combat mode looks a helluva lot more feasible.

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Matt's Dev Diary 003: Fun with Blender and a bit o' scripting

Spent most of today working my way through the Blender book and hitting some of my Unity books. I'm really starting to enjoy working with Blender; the book has been fantastic, and although I still feel like I'm muddling my way through, I already feel less like a drunk driver and more like an eager 16-year working on his learner's permit. I'm constantly seeing things in the book and realizing I've been doing so much stuff the HARD way, but if you put the book down for a minute you've already forgotten the shortcuts and have to dig through it again. Still, once you realize there's an easy way to do something, at least you know it's there for the digging up.

One thing I didn't work with before was the modifiers you can apply to objects. Much like filters with Photoshop or GIMP, you can do a lot of nice art just by applying these tools (no actual artistic talent required).
Three Cubes: Applying some simple modifiers makes each one look different.Three Cubes: Applying some simple modifiers makes each one look different.
There's also techniques to quickly create four table legs and such. It's not quite as easy as just copying and pasting, but a helluva lot easier than trying to create four different ones and move them into place by hand. That's a nightmare.

As far as Unity goes, I spent most of my time there reading about the scripting system. There's three options: Javascript, C#, and Boo. From what I hear, nobody uses Boo, noobs use Javascript, and anybody worth his salt uses C#. However, I keep encountering conflicting advice. Javascript seems to be able to handle almost any scripting need you might have, some say, so C# isn't needed. I can't seem to get a definite answer on whether, for all intents and purposes, Javascript is fine, or if you really do get a huge performance increase of some sort by working with C#. One strong thing in favor of Javascript is that it's the language of all the books and tutorials I've seen so far, and I've heard it's the norm for anyone who isn't a programmer by trade.

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Matt's Dev Diary 002: Breaking down the fun of a CRPG

The research continues. I want to start off by recommending the book Blender Foundations. I read the first four chapters last night and learned so much--including so many of those "Ohhh, so THAT'S how it works" type moments that just blows your mind. It's really cleared up a lot of confusion and I've still got plenty left to go; hopefully by the end of it I'll be a lot more comfortable making animations and working with textures and such. The author can be a bit snarky--he seems to think anybody who doesn't get what he's talking about is a nincompoop--but this oddly adds some entertainment value. So, I say go for it if you have any desire at all to learn Blender.

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Matt's Dev Diary 001: Starting Out

Well, I guess now is a good time to start jotting down some notes here. I doubt anyone will care to read it, but perhaps it could be fun. Who knows?

At any rate, I always like to think big when starting a game project and then scale down as it becomes clearer how much time, energy, and expense will be required to achieve my vision. However, I don't like to overthink things. You can get bogged down with extensive game design documents and such that just aren't necessary (IMO) until much later in the process, after you have a good understanding of what's feasible to actually implement.

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Eye of the Beholder

Well, my slog is not going well. I managed to get to the second level of the dungeon and do some poking around, but then dosbox crashed so badly I lost my saved game. I noticed that Abandonia has the Amiga version, too, think I'll give that one a go now.

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